Buck's Blog

The Stream-of-Conciousness Journal of a Wargamer
  • .: Welcome to my blog :.

    I'm John R. "Buck" Surdu. I have two Web pages that contain relatively static information about my professional life (including papers I've written) and my hobby life (including information about rules I've written and my wargaming projects). This blog is where I plan to post personal tidbits, like vacation pictures, wargaming projects, etc. Enjoy!
  • Completed a litte over 800 points of Humans

    Posted By on November 16, 2014

    I recently finished about 800 points of human for Bear Yourselves Valiantly.  These are the humans from two Games Workshop Battle of Five Armies starter sets.  Now, I’m working to finish up all the goblin infantry and a few other odds and ends.

    Eight Year of Senior Leader Professional Development Events

    Posted By on November 16, 2014

    Map of "Four Corners" used for this training event

    Map of "Four Corners" used for this training event

    This past Thursday, a group of the HAWKs took time off work, retirement, and/or daily activities to travel to western Maryland to a professional development event for the 114th Signal Battalion.  This is the eighth such event that we have helped run.  Each year gets more and more sophisticated.  This year Sam Fuson orchestrated an event for 54 officers, NCOs, and civilian staff.  We couldn’t think of a historical battle for which we had enough troops that would get 54 players into the action, so we hit on the idea of running the same battle six times.  We still didn’t have enough troops, so we decided to run the same battle in six historical periods and make the technology differences and how those impacted tactics part of the learning objectives.  I was pushing for Lake Trasimene (Romans vs. Carthaginians), but Sam suggested Quatre Bras.  While the tactical situation is quite interesting, I was a little worried about some players sitting around for a couple of hours waiting for their troops to come onto the table.  We set up a greatly accelerated arrival schedule for both sides.  (Above is the stylized map we used for this event.)

    Dave setting up the (Napoleonic) battle

    Dave setting up the (Napoleonic) battle

    We felt it was important to disguise the battle.  We didn’t tell anyone this was based on Quatre Bras.  We called it “Four Corners.”  We did this, because one of the learning objectives was tactical problem solving.  We felt that if the players knew the battle, they might research it and come into the game with pre-conceived notions and plans.  Even for the Napoleonic version (game mastered by Dave Wood, USMA 1984, using Fate of Battle: Look, Sarge, No Charts: Napoleonic Wars), we substituted Austrians for the British to help disguise the battle.

    Ed, Geoff, and Ed setting up the (Civil War) battle

    Ed, Geoff, and Ed setting up the (Civil War) battle

    Eric Schlegel ran “Four Corners” with Union troops substituted for the French and the Confederate troops substituted for the British.  As Eric pointed out, with the accelerated reinforcement schedule, this was a very hard scenario for the attackers (the French in the original battle).  For the Civil War version, we used A Union So Tested: Look, Sarge, No Charts: American Civil War.

    Duncan setting up the (WWI) battle

    Duncan setting up the (WWI) battle

    Duncan Adams ran Four Corners as an early WWI battle with the French as the attackers and the Germans as the defenders.  For this battle, Duncan used his mashup of Look, Sarge, No Charts: WWII and A Union So Tested.

    Kurt providing instruction during the (73 War) battle

    Kurt providing instruction during the (73 War) battle

    Kurt Schlegel setting up his 73 Arab-Israeli War version of the scenario using Look, Sarge, No Charts:  WWII.  The large patch of woods on the table was converted to an orchard that didn’t slow movement as much as it did on the other tables.  He also replaced the stream with the ditch you can see running down the middle of the table.  The French at Quatre Bras were replaced by Syrians, with Israelis substituting for the British.

    Duncan providing instruction to the players in the (WWI) battle

    Duncan providing instruction to the players in the (WWI) battle

    I floated from table to table, taking notes, providing some hints to the players, making sure that all the games were run consistently.  As usual, the players generally caught onto the rules with little difficulty.  Very few of the players had ever played war-games before — except for those who participated in these yearly events.  There were a few who still needed hand holding by the end of the game, but by and large, they managed to become self supporting after a few turns.

    Chris setting up the (War of the Rose) battle

    Chris setting up the (War of the Rose) battle

    Chris Palmer ran Four Corners as a battle during the War of the Roses using Bear Yourselves Valiantly: Look, Sarge, No Charts: Fantasy, Ancient, and Mediaeval.

    Eric setting up the (Civil War) battle

    Eric setting up the (Civil War) battle

    Eric Schlegel and Ed Duffy ran the Civil War version of Four Corners with A Union So Tested.

    Ed Duffy setting up the (Civil War) battle

    Ed Duffy setting up the (Civil War) battle

    In each scenario, there were five victory points.  Victory went to the side that controlled 3 or more points by the end of the game.  These victory points were represented by flags on the table that Sam made for all the tables.  Initially four flags were in possession of the defender.  One was placed in Quatre Bras, one was placed in the small woods near Quatre Bras just west of the north-south road.  The third was placed on the small hill along the east-west road, just east of Quatre Bras.  The fourth was placed on the large hill south of Quatre Bras.  The fifth victory point was based on casualties; the side that lost the fewest bases during the battle was awarded the fifth point.  Initially the four on-table flags were those of the defenders’ countries.  When captured by the attackers, the flags were changed to that of the attackers’ countries.  This provided a visual indication of how the battle was developing.

    A view of the (WWI) battle

    A view of the (WWI) battle

    This was a pretty easy fight or the defenders, so the defenders’ commanders had pretty simple schemes of maneuver.  Still, only about half of them planned for a reserve.  Most just shoved reinforcements into the fight near where they arrived.

    A view of the (Napoleonic) battle

    A view of the (Napoleonic) battle

    It was interesting to see how each of the attackers had somewhat different schemes of maneuver.  In some cases their main effort was to push up the center where most of the victory points were placed on the map — but where the defender was strongest.  In other cases, they planned to push through the large woods to accrue the benefits of cover and concealment.  The slow movement through the woods — particularly in the earlier historical periods — made this a difficult maneuver to execute.  In the WWI game, which had the least mobile forces, the attacker wanted to try a double envelopment around both flanks!  Finally, some decided to move around their right where the enemy was weakest in an attempt to take Quatre Bras from behind.

    A view of the (Civil War) battle

    A view of the (Civil War) battle

    One of the players shouted “Whoever designed this game should be shot!” half way through the event.  He was expressing frustration at the fact that he could see the whole battlefield but his units couldn’t spot the enemy and didn’t always do what he wanted.  I think by the end, he saw the realism of the game’s mechanics.

    Serious planning during the (War of the Roses) battle

    Serious planning during the (War of the Roses) battle

    On the War of the Roses table, the attacking commander impressed us toward the end of the fight.  His left was crumbling, but he decided to focus on the objective, Quatre Bras, and have the remnants of his left flank conduct a delaying action without reinforcements.  He sent his reinforcements (mounted knights) up the center.  Unfortunately his knights got bogged down pushing up the large hill (friction inflicted on him by the game’s activation mechanics), so he didn’t have the success he deserved.  I’ve see a lot of long-time gamers make the mistakes of reinforcing failure or losing focus the objective.  It was neat to see a professional military officer do it right.

    Dave instructing some soldiers during the (Napoleonic) battle

    Dave instructing some soldiers during the (Napoleonic) battle

    I just retired from the Army after 28.5 years plus four years as a cadet.  There are days when I miss the camaraderie of soldiers.  These annual events are fun for me to be around soldiers, their friendly trash talk and banter, and their general attitudes.

    The German left late in the (WWII) battle as the Germans work their way around the French right

    The German left late in the (WWII) battle as the Germans work their way around the French right

    Sam Fuson and Geoff Graff ran the WWII version of the battle with Look, Sarge, No Charts: WWII.  The Germans took the role of the French at Quatre Bras, and the French took the role of the British.

    The Israeli right flank during the (73 War) battle

    The Israeli right flank during the (73 War) battle

    The final scorecard:  The attackers won 3:2 on the WWII and Arab-Israeli War tables.  The attackers lost on all the other tables.  I think the scenario, while still hard, was easier for attackers with modern maneuver capabilities.  Despite Israeli air support, the Syrians maneuvered through the orchard.  They captured the two flags on the hills south and east of town, had maneuvered north of Quatre Bras, and with more time might have taken the town from the Israelis.

    Chris and one of the NCOs climbing on the table to access some troops

    Chris and one of the NCOs climbing on the table to access some troops

    From the standpoint of executing the event, we forgot that the VFW where we played has 8-foot long tables.  The standard gaming table is only six feet across to allow easy access to move troops in the center of the table.  We made the decision to use 8×10 tables and leave some “white space” on the sides.  This made it very hard to reach troops in the center of the table — where most of the action was occurring.  Next year, I think we should find a historical battle that we can play on a table five feet deep and 16 feet across.  This will allow each reach to the center of the table and provide lots of lateral maneuver room.

    The French right late in the (Napoleonic) battle

    The French right late in the (Napoleonic) battle

    War of the Roses battle in full swing

    War of the Roses battle in full swing

    A chubby old guy conducting the after action review

    A chubby old Army retiree conducting the after action review

    After the battles were over, I conducted an after action review where I tried to tease out some lessons.  We reviewed the principles of war (mass, objective, offensive, surprise, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, and simplicity) and how to apply them on the tabletop.  I pointed out good and bad examples of many of these principles that I saw during the battles.  I also tried to emphasize that the defender must still have a scheme of maneuver and cannot be just passive.  Next year, I think we should find a battle in which the attacker has the advantage and the defender has to be aggressive to win.

    Feedback from the participants was good.  I think this was a very successful event.  The HAWKs, including three new participants (Duncan, Kurt, and Geoff) had a good time.  We must be doing something good, because they keep inviting us back!

     

    G.A.M.E.R. at Fall In 2014

    Posted By on November 10, 2014

    Commandos were busy shooting up a squad of German infantry in the woods

    Commandos were busy shooting up a squad of German infantry in the woods

    I ran GAMER again at Fall In.  Interested readers can search on GAMER or G.A.M.E.R. in my blog to see entries that describe the development process for these rules.   In general, I was happy with the way the rules played.  We had one or two players who couldn’t seem to get the hang of the card-based combat mechanism, but most did.  The games flowed pretty quickly and smoothly.

    The Cigar Box Battles mat with just a building and a couple of hedges on it for scale

    The Cigar Box Battles mat with just a building and a couple of hedges on it for scale

    Cory Ring of Cigar Box Battles sent me one of their wargaming terrain mat products.  These are beautiful terrain mats printed fleece.  Even with the roads printed on them (not all have roads), they are quite flexible.  Many, many people came by to look at the terrain.  One of the things that I like is that, being made of fleece, they drape over hills without annoying wrinkles.

    The Cigar Box Battle mat after I added hills, trees, and other details

    The Cigar Box Battle mat after I added hills, trees, and other details

    Here is what it looked like after I added all the rest of the terrain bits.  I think the overall effect is quite good.  If I have any complaints, I think that this particular mat may be too woody.  I had to lay out some other felt bits to cover up some of the trees to provide fields of fire for small arms to make the WWII game more interesting.  They have many different designs, including snow, desert, stars, woodland (with roads), and woodland (without roads).  Lately they have begun making mats based on actual historical battles.  I THINK that this mat is one of two for the first day of Gettysburg.

    Partisan advancing through the woods in my first GAMER event of the convention

    Partisan advancing through the woods in my first GAMER event of the convention

    I ran two iterations of GAMER on the same terrain.  One involved British commandos and French partisans trying to rescue a captured British general from a farm house.  The second was a meeting engagement between an American platoon and a German platoon.

    Commandos advance into the courtyard to rescue the British general

    Commandos advance into the courtyard to rescue the British general

    The commandos advanced slowly toward the farmhouse.  The partisans took the slow route through the woods, but despite that, they made it into the farmhouse first.  They beelined upstairs and got involved in a swirling melee for three or four turns with the Germans on the second floor.  In the end, the British/French force got a narrow upper hand, and I judged that the general had been rescued.

    Later in the fight. We took off the top floor of the farm house to better resolve the melee between partisans and Germans.

    Later in the fight. We took off the top floor of the farm house to better resolve the melee between partisans and Germans.

    Waiting to start the second GAMER iteration of the convention

    Waiting to start the second GAMER iteration of the convention

    American paratroopers advancing along a path in the second GAMER iteration

    American paratroopers advancing along a path in the second GAMER iteration

    I still have a number of details to work out, but I’ll get there.  They still aren’t as fast or fun as I had hoped, so I keep tinkering with them.  I am using the activation mechanism from Battles by GASLIGHT and the Look, Sarge family of rules, but I keep hoping to come up with something even better.

    I’m having fun with the rules, and most of the people who have tried it ask me when they might be available for sale.  I’m pretty fed up with British magazines giving short shrift to all rules American (without actually playing even one game with the rules) and there being no US magazines in which to get reviews.  The TMP crowd is full of folks who generally don’t do anything themselves except criticize the efforts of other, better men (look up The Man in the Arena speech by Teddy Roosevelt).  I don’t have sock puppets.  The one time I asked members of the GASLIGHT Yahoo group to go to Board Game Geek and write about the rules, good or bad, only one person did so, and he spent a page going into gory detail about how much he disliked the new Compendium.  So, I don’t think I am going to go through the pain of writing these up for commercial publication.  I have written over a dozen sets of rules for publication, but only GASLIGHT has been even remotely successful, despite the fact that I think many of them were quite innovative in their day.  I am really proud of the Look, Sarge family of rules, but they really haven’t gotten any popular or critical note.  I have gotten tired of beating my head against a wall.  Right now, I’m just having fun solving one development problem at a time with no deadlines.  They’re shaping up nicely, but they are a long way from good yet.

    Random Pictures of HAWKs Room Games at Fall In 2014

    Posted By on November 10, 2014

    Setting up the dungeon crawl

    Setting up the dungeon crawl

    As usual, the HAWKs ran a rich selection of both historical and non-historical games at Fall In.  In this post, I will show a number of pictures of our games without any narrative.

    Tank's Romans vs. Carthaginians game

    Tank's Romans vs. Carthaginians game with Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Eric getting started with his Wild West Dr. Who game

    Eric getting started with his Wild West Dr. Who game using Blood and Swash

    A close-up of one of Duncan's War of 1812 games

    A close-up of Duncan's War of 1812 Bladensburg game using Wellington Rules

    Battleground WWII run by Don Hogge

    Battleground WWII run by Don Hogge

    A dust storm kicks up in Eric's Dr. Who game

    A dust storm kicks up in Eric's Dr. Who game

    Dave introduced many young gamers to Bear Yourselves Valiantly at Fall In

    Dave introduced many young gamers to Bear Yourselves Valiantly at Fall In

    Dave turned out to be the HAWKS “iron marshal” at Fall In this year.  He ran FIVE full games at Fall In.  All Saturday he had a table set up at which he ran BOTH at Fate of Battle (Napoleonic Wars) and Bear Yourselves Valiantly (Fantasy, Ancients, and Mediaeval) AT THE SAME TIME.  He was ably assisted by David Schlegel and Geoff Graff for much of the day.

    The initial set up of Teaguen-Hausen, showing the Austrian advanced guard poised to lock horns with Davout's III Corps

    The initial set up of Teaguen-Hausen, showing the Austrian advanced guard poised to lock horns with Davout's III Corps. This game used Fate of Battle rules.

    Geoff's Look, Sarge, No Charts: WWII game

    Geoff's Look, Sarge, No Charts: WWII game

    Dave running demonstration games of Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Dave running demonstration games of Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Infantry in the open in Don's Battleground WWII game

    Infantry in the open in Don's Battleground WWII game

    The museum office in Greg's Dr. Who A Night at the Museum game using the Dr. Who Miniatures Game rules

    The museum office in Greg's Dr. Who A Night at the Museum game using the Dr. Who Miniatures Game rules

    Early in the battle of Teaguen-Hausen using Fate of Battle

    Early in the battle of Teaguen-Hausen using Fate of Battle

    Duncan setting up Bladensburg

    Duncan setting up Bladensburg

    Kurt Schlegel running his A Union So Test American Civil War game

    Kurt Schlegel running his A Union So Test American Civil War game

    A night attack before New Orleans, 1815, using Wellington Rules

    A night attack before New Orleans, December 1814, using Wellington Rules

    Don supervising his groupies during a Battleground WWII game

    Don supervising his groupies during a Battleground WWII game

    Dave and another Bear Yourselves Valiantly demonstration game

    Dave and another Bear Yourselves Valiantly demonstration game

    Fire as She Bears!

    Fire as She Bears!

    A broad view of Greg's Dr. Who A Night at the Museum game

    A broad view of Greg's Dr. Who A Night at the Museum game

    Tank supervising his Fire as She Bears naval game

    Tank supervising his Fire as She Bears naval game

    David Schlegel's game based on The Hunger Games

    David Schlegel's game based on The Hunger Games

    Dave running more Bear Yourselves Valiantly demonstration games

    Dave running more Bear Yourselves Valiantly demonstration games

    The Battle of Five Armies

    The Battle of Five Armies

    Chris showing off his copy of Bear Yourselves Valiantly. We released this new and exciting set of rules at Fall In.

    Chris showing off his copy of Bear Yourselves Valiantly. We released this new and exciting set of rules at Fall In.

    Teaguen-Hausen in full swing

    Teaguen-Hausen in full swing

    A close view of Duncan's New Orleans game

    A close view of Duncan's New Orleans game

    Chris running The Battle of Five Armies with Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Chris running The Battle of Five Armies with Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Another view of Bladensburg

    Another view of Night Operations prior to the Battle of New Orleans

     

    Fantastic Urban Terrain for Roaring 20′s Games

    Posted By on November 9, 2014

    While there were many quality terrain setups at Fall In 2014, most were nice, but not unusual.  This setup was exceptional.  It is difficult to get a feel of scale from these photos, but this table was over 20 feet long.  There must have been over fifty vehicles.

    Most of the buildings were made of foam core with printed paper over them.  Many had 3D windows and doors made from plastic to provide relief.  There were nice details like fire escapes, lots of period posters and advertisement, many bystanders engaged in daily activities, etc.

    I did not have a chance to play in this game, so I have no idea whether it was fun, but is sure looked like a million dollars.

    Review: Eccentric Miniatures

    Posted By on November 9, 2014

    At Fall In this past weekend, I ran across this new product.  At least it was new to me.  This company, Eccentric Miniatures, it making plastic figures on square sprues.  They make bowmen, men at arms, etc.  The price of these figures is reasonable.  This pack of eight bowmen cost $12.

    These are the contents of the box of longbowmen.  It is difficult to tell from these pictures, but the detail is good, and the anatomy seems right.  The faces are as good as most plastic figures I’ve seen — meaning not quite as good as lead, but still good enough for my painting ability.

    What caught my eye, however, was a rack of sprues of swords, axes, maces, bows, pouches and other accessories that were available for $2 a sprue.  These would be quite handy for adding some variety to other figures.

    Armies for Kids 2015 Gets Underway

    Posted By on October 19, 2014

    For the past several years, the HAWKs have been putting together painted armies, running games for kids at Historicon, and giving the painted armies away to the kids (ten and under).  The first year we gave away AWI armies.  In other years we’ve given away Seven Years War, Napoleonic, and Civil War armies.  This year we will actually run two games and give away two sets of armies.  The first is 40mm ACW, and we are getting a lot of help on that project from generous volunteers.  The second is 20mm WWII (US vs. Germans).  In November the HAWKs are going to have their first painting day, so in preparation, I glued the US forces to popsicle sticks and sprayed them khaki.  The picture above shows most, but not all, of the US figures.

    Terrain for 10mm WWII

    Posted By on October 14, 2014

    Usually a year or two ahead of rule development I start painting figures and building terrain so that when we start to work on the rules, we have something with which to play test.

    The vehicle in the foreground is a 10mm science fiction vehicle for scale.  I recycled some packing material.  One held a replacement GFE outlet, and the other held a bottle of some sort of goopy stuff I got from my wife.  After painting them, I made some of the windows and doors in PowerPoint and printed them on label paper to stick on the buildings.

    Not Quite Seven Years War in 10mm

    Posted By on October 14, 2014

    The grenadier regiment

    The grenadier regiment

    Rob Dean has been running Not Quite Seven Years War games in 54mm with home-cast figures for years.  A little over a year ago, Chris Palmer got the idea of doing it in 10mm with some variant of the Look, Sarge, No Charts rules.  As I had the day off today, I finished several units.

    The new regiments with the one original regiment, two batteries, and an officer

    The new regiments with the one original regiment, two batteries, and an officer

    In a previous post I described how the country of Bergdorfreuthenheim has 21 infantry regiments and that the facing colors rotate in a seven-color sequence.  I completed 8 regiments of line infantry (for a goal of 9, since I had completed one some months ago).  I also complete a grenadier regiment.

    A slightly closer view

    A slightly closer view

    A closer view of one of the new regiments

    A closer view of one of the new regiments

    Side view showing the flag

    Side view showing the flag

    Before I paint any more infantry, I think I’ll paint a few regiments of light cavalry.  I’ll add that to my purchase list for Fall In next month.

    More Air Support for My Female Hussar Force

    Posted By on October 13, 2014

    Warhammer helicopter with a female hussar replacing the dwarf as pilot

    Warhammer helicopter with a female hussar replacing the dwarf as pilot

    I have often said that much of the Warhammer 40K stuff looks more Victorian Science Fiction than “hard core” science fiction.  I have a few Warhammer vehicles that I have added some smokestacks and other bits to make into vehicles for GASLIGHT.  I have a hard time investing $50 for a single, unpainted model, but I found this one at the flea marker during our recent gaming day (Barrage).

    The original box art

    The original box art

    I enjoyed putting together the kit and sprayed it black in its major assemblies.  I painted it separately and then assembled it.  I think it turned out nicely.  I’m not sure when it will make it on the table, but I’m anxious to see how it fares in its first combat.

    Another view of the helicopter

    Another view of the helicopter